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FYTI - The Manual: Bullets, Boxes and Dingbats

Typographic road signs should draw attention to the text they're meant to emphasize – not to themselves.

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Typographic road signs should draw attention to the text they're meant to emphasize – not to themselves.
FYTI - The Manual
Bullets, Boxes and Dingbats
Sometimes letters are not enough. Perhaps you've tried changing “not-to-be-missed” text to bold or italic type, or even to a different face altogether, but it still doesn't have the exact amount of emphasis you’re looking for. One simple solution to this typographic problem is to use a bullet, box, or dingbat.

Different Caliber of Typographic Bullets
Bullets are simply round dots. They can be solid or just an outline, and come in two standard sizes: em bullets (which are almost as big as capital letters) and en bullets (which are about half the size of em bullets). When typeset, both varieties are centered vertically on the height of the capital letters. Bullets function as typographic stop signs. When placed before copy, they say ‘stop and read this!’ They're also used after copy to indicate the end of an article, story or chapter. While they can be found just about anywhere, a bullet's natural habitat is in directories, catalogs and lists.

Box It
Boxes serve two purposes: to put things in, and to replace bullets. Like bullets, boxes come in two varieties. Open boxes are the kind found on reply cards, forms, and voting ballots; they're designed to hold a check mark. Closed boxes can be found anywhere bullets are found, serving the same purposes – with just a bit more emphasis.

Dingbats
Then there are dingbats. What are dingbats? They're typographic ornaments. Pointing hands (called ‘pointers’ by the old-timers), stars, arrows, flowers, check marks, and the huge variety of ornaments which defy simple identification are generally lumped into the category of dingbats. As in most other aspects of typography, taste in the use of dingbats has changed over time. Today, whether, or how much they're used, varies dramatically from designer to designer. So can their effect. Depending on how they're set, dingbats can appear quite modern or very old-fashioned.

Straight Shooting With Bullets, Boxes and Dingbats
Below are some rules of thumb on how to use bullets, boxes and dingbats. Just remember, these typographic road signs should draw attention to the text they're meant to emphasize – not to themselves.
Download a pdf version of the Bullets, Boxes & Dingbats article and add it to your bookmarks.

Typefaces used in this article
Wingdings®
Helvetica® Now
 
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